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Building a Museum

Galleries Full of Gifts
Gustave Courbet’s <i>Deer in the Forest</i> was one of the first paintings in the MIA’s collection. It was a gift of the St. Paul railroad tycoon James J. Hill in 1914.
zoom Gustave Courbet’s Deer in the Forest was one of the first paintings in the MIA’s collection. It was a gift of the St. Paul railroad tycoon James J. Hill in 1914.


Construction of the new museum began in 1913. But a very important part of the project was still missing: world-class art to display in the galleries. The Society of Fine Arts had hoped to attract the city’s largest private art collection, owned by the lumberman T. B. Walker. But Mr. Walker wanted a museum closer to downtown and eventually opened his own museum, today’s Walker Art Center.

The first director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Joseph Breck, had only a few thousand dollars to spend on art in 1913. That was a slim budget even in those days. Then in February of 1914, everyone got a big surprise. The Society’s president, mill owner William Hood Dunwoody, suddenly died. Without telling anyone of his plans, he had left the Society a fund of one million dollars for the purchase of art. Gifts of money and artwork from others quickly followed.

Today the museum has nearly 100,000 works of art in its collection. About 5 percent of the art is on view in the galleries at any given time. The rest is kept in storerooms where temperature and humidity are carefully controlled. (Much of that art can be damaged by light and cannot be displayed for long periods.) Now, the 2006 expansion has added 40 percent more gallery space to the museum. Hundreds of treasures have come out of storage—and the museum has room to add art to its collection for years to come.

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1. The MIA gained a world-class print collection overnight in 1916 when the newspaper publisher Herschel V. Jones bought the collection of another art collector for the museum. The collection included this 1630 self-portrait by Rembrandt.
2. The museum continues to buy art with interest earned from William Hood Dunwoody’s 1914 gift of one million dollars. The fund helped buy this Indonesian sculpture of the Hindu god Ganesha in 2003.
3. Collectors Bruce and Ruth Dayton have a wide variety of art interests. In the 1990s they worked with a museum curator to build an important collection of Chinese furniture—including two authentic Chinese rooms in which to display it.


May 2006